Stealing A Nation wins Britain's most prestigious documentary honour, also top American award
Stealing A Nation reveals the extraordinary story of the secret expulsion of the entire population of the Chagos islands in the Indian Ocean by successive British governments, so that the principal island, Diego Garcia, could be handed to the United States as a major military base. It is from this base that American aircraft have attacked Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stealing a Nation
“This is a shocking, almost incredible story. A government calling itself civilised tricked and expelled its most vulnerable citizens so that it could give their homeland to a foreign power…ministers and their officials then mounted a campaign of deception all the way up to the prime minister.” John Pilger
10/06/04: "ITV" -- John Pilger’s new documentary is an extraordinary film about the plight of people of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean - secretly and brutally expelled from their homeland by British governments in the late 1960s and early 1970s, to make way for an American military base. The base, on the main island of Diego Garcia, was a launch pad for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
A remarkable dossier of evidence has been put together by Pilger and producer Chris Martin, all from official files, charting one of the most shocking conspiracies of modern times, which continues today.
Diego Garcia is America’s biggest military base in the world, outside the US. There are more than 4,000 troops, two bomber runways, thirty warships and a satellite spy station. The Pentagon calls it an “indispensable platform” for policing the world. Before the Americans came, more than 2,000 people lived on the islands, many with roots back to the late 18th century. There were thriving villages, a school, a hospital, a church, a railway and an undisturbed way of life. The islands were, and still are, a British crown colony.
In the 1960s, the government of Harold Wilson struck a secret deal with the United States to hand over Diego Garcia. The Americans demanded that the islands be “swept” and “sanitised”. Unknown to Parliament and to the US Congress, the British government plotted with Washington to expel the entire population – in secrecy and in breach of the United Nations Charter.
At first, they starved them of essential supplies; then rumours spread that the islands would be bombed; then the people watched their pets gassed to death before they were herded on to boats and dumped in the slums of Mauritius. Rita, now in her 70s, lost her husband and three of her children following their deportation: “I am a British citizen and they threw us out of our homeland in the name of the Queen.”
Lizette, in her 70s, says: “My children died from sadness. When we were forced out, she died, the youngest fell ill and the doctor said to me, ‘I can’t treat sadness’. What they did to us was no different from the treatment of the slaves.”
Charlesia says: “What hurts most is that we were never told what they were doing with our islands. If it had been built for poor people to work, fine. But it’s a base for bombers – and the bombs that fell on Iraq came from our paradise.”
John Pilger and producer Christopher Martin have acquired hundreds of astonishing official documents which, in the words of officials and ministers, reveal how the conspiracy was hatched, then covered up.
“The documents show clearly that the conspiracy to expel the population rested on a big lie,” says John Pilger. “This claimed that the population were itinerant workers, when the government knew this was a population that went back generations. Most had never left the islands. “One Foreign Office document is headed, ‘Maintaining the fiction’. Another says, ‘We propose to certify these people, more or less fraudulently, as belonging somewhere else.’ We have secret memos that propose how the government should lie to the world. I have never read anything like them.”
Pilger also reveals how the scandal continues today.
The director, writer and presenter John Pilger, has made more than 50 documentaries for ITV, including his famous exposes of Pol Pot’s killing fields in Cambodia and the genocide in East Timor. He has twice won Britain’s highest award for journalism, Journalist of the Year. He has been International Reporter of the year and holds the United Nations Media Peace Prize, the Richard Dimbleby Award given by Bafta and an American television academy award, an Emmy.